How to Clean and Care for Acetate and Triacetate Fabric

Close up of acetate fabric
  blackred / Getty Images 

Acetate fabric, as well as the triacetate fabrics that followed, were created from one of the earliest manmade fibers in the United States. Both are often used as a substitute for silk in less-expensive garments, but similar care must be used when washing.

How to Wash Acetate and Triacetate Fabrics
Detergent Gentle
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Delicate
Drying Cycle Type Do not machine dry
Special Treatments Air-dry
Iron Settings Low

Project Metrics

Working time: 10 minutes

Total time: Up to 24 hours, including drying time

Skill level: Beginner

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

Instructions

  1. Read the Care Label Before Washing

    Always read and carefully follow care labels in clothing for best results. Even though acetate and triacetate fabrics can be washed, some garment care tags may recommend dry cleaning only to preserve the shape and structure of the garment. If you are a novice at doing laundry or the garment is expensive, follow the dry cleaning recommendation.

  2. Place Garments Into Mesh Bag

    Prevent snagging from zippers on other clothes by placing the garment in a mesh bag before adding to the washer. Turn the item inside-out before putting it in the bag.

  3. Load and Set the Washing Machine

    Do not overload the washer, choose the gentle cycle and cold water settings, and select a reduced speed spin cycle. Too much agitation and high-speed spinning can produce excessive wrinkles that can be very difficult to remove from acetate and triacetate fabrics.

  4. Remove From Washer and Air-dry

Skip the clothes dryer and allow acetate and triacetate clothes to air-dry by laying it flat or hanging it on a drying rack. Excessive heat may cause the garment to shrink.

Tips for Washing Acetate and Triacetate Garments

  • Acetate is a weak fiber and shouldn't be exposed to any type of heat.
  • Consider hand-washing delicate acetate and triacetate garments, or take them to a dry cleaner for professional cleaning.

Storing Acetate and Triacetate Fabrics

Store acetate garments away from any alcohol-based products like perfume or nail polish remover, which can cause damage to the fabric. Instead of hanging items, which can cause the garment to lose their shape, fold and store the garments flat.

Treating Stains on Acetate and Triacetate Fabrics

Treat stains on acetate and triacetate fabrics with a stain remover that's meant for the specific type of stain you're treating, such as coffee stains, ink, or makeup. To remove unpleasant smells, presoak the item for 30 minutes in cold water that's been mixed with ¼ cup of vinegar, then wash normally.

Never use acetone or organic solvents like turpentine on acetate or triacetate because the fibers will dissolve. This cannot be reversed.

Ironing

If the garment must be ironed, use a low temperature and a pressing cloth to prevent the melting of fibers that can create holes or shiny spots. Press while the fabric is slightly damp and turned inside out.

What Are Acetate and Triacetate Fabrics?

Acetate fiber is man-made and manufactured from cellulose or wood pulp. What originally began in Europe as a manufactured coating for airplane wings, became a staple in fabric production in the United States by 1924 by the Celanese Corporation. 

Originally acetate was not dye-stable and color bleeding would occur. However, this was resolved by textile experts who realized that solution dying the fibers rather than waiting to dye the finished fabric made the color stable. Now all man-made fibers are solution-dyed before weaving or knitting.

Since acetate is less expensive to produce than many other fibers (thanks to an abundance of wood pulp), and it's not very durable, acetate is often used for short-term special occasion wear like graduation gowns and party dresses. It is also the fabric of choice for some accessories like ribbons, scarves, and neckties that aren't worn often.

Additional advancements were made by the Celanese Corporation in the 1950s with the development of triacetate. Triacetate combines cellulose with acetate esters from acetic acid and acetate anhydride. The result is a more stable, durable fabric that is easier care. Triacetate can withstand more agitation and heat without damaging the fibers.

Benefits of Acetate and Triacetate Fabrics

  • Acetate fabrics drape well and have a smooth silky feel.
  • Acetate and Triacetate fabrics are available in many colors and prints.
  • Triacetate fabrics hold a pleat well and remain crisp.
  • Triacetate fabrics can be ironed at a higher temperature before damage occurs.
  • Acetate and Triacetate fabrics have a high luster and reflect light to produce a shiny finish.
  • Acetate and Triacetate fabrics do not pill, produce little static, and are inexpensive.
  • Triacetate fabrics are resistant to wrinkles.
  • Triacetate fabrics are much more shrink resistant than Acetate fabrics.
  • Triacetate fabrics are machine washable at a higher water temperature and quick drying.
  • Acetate and Triacetate fabrics are insect and mildew resistant.

Problems With Acetate and Triacetate Fabrics

  • Acetate and Triacetate fabric dissolve in fingernail polish remover or acetone.
  • Woven acetate fabrics often require dry cleaning to prevent excessive wrinkling.
  • Acetate fibers are heat sensitive and can melt when ironed. High temperatures in the dryer or even the hot-water setting on a washer can create permanent wrinkles after a high-speed spin cycle.
  • Acetate and Triacetate fibers do not produce strong fabrics and are susceptible to abrasion.
  • Acetate and Triacetate fibers do not stretch and cannot take hard wear. However, Triacetate is much more durable than Acetate.